About a week ago, a message allegedly denigrating women of a particular community began circulating across groups on WhatsApp. Angry at the incendiary language, scores of people hit the road, and even laid siege to a police station in Sehore district.
This is not one-off incident; police and other law-enforcement agencies are increasingly facing law and order problems triggered by sensitive or controversial content on the instant messaging application.
A morphed photograph, an inflammatory message or a rumour forwarded through WhatsApp goes viral in no time, often causing nervous moments for security officers.
"As compared to social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, there is even more serious challenge when messages get forwarded through WhatsApp," said a police officer, requesting anonymity.
Last week, a man from southern part of the state forwarded a false message about several persons of a particular group being burnt dead by another group. Police said that locating the person who originally forwarded the message was tough.
"The main task is to take swift action so that the damage because of rumour or false message is minimal," he said. “The problem is that rumours spread very fast."
A few days back, there was a similar issue in Ujjain, when message on WhatsApp led to communal tension. Police sources said the problem is that the server of such agencies is in foreign countries.
It is a long drawn process, they said, to get information about the person or to recover a message that has been deleted. Additional director general of police SL Thaosen said the state police keeps eye on any such message or rumour that gets viral on social networking sites and has the potential to create trouble.
"The fear of law will act as deterrent in such case, especially when people get to know that false messages can land them in jail," he said. "Also, when people realise that forwarding unconfirmed messages can cause damage, harm others, this trend will stop," he added.
Thaosen said there is a need for community leaders, NGOs, educational institutions and social groups to create awareness about the risks posed by rumour-mongering on social media.